BRCA1/2 testing in hereditary breast and ovarian cancer families II: Impact on relationships
Members of hereditary breast and ovarian cancer (HBOC) families often express concern during genetic counseling about the impact of BRCA1/2 testing on close relatives. Yet whether there are likely to be adverse effects of either the decision to undergo genetic testing or the results of testing on family relationships is unknown. One purpose of this study was to assess the impact on close family relationships. Within a randomized trial of breast cancer genetic counseling methods, members of 13 HBOC families were offered BRCA1/2 testing for a known family mutation. The Family Relationship Index (FRI) of the Family Environment Scale (FES) was used to measure perceived family cohesion, conflict, and expressiveness at baseline and again 6-9 months following the receipt of test results, or at the equivalent time for those who declined testing. Participants (n = 212) completed baseline and follow-up questionnaires. Comparisons were made between testers and non-testers as well as between those who tested positive and negative for the family mutation. One hundred eighty-one participants elected to undergo genetic testing (85%) and 47 (26%) were identified to have a mutation. After adjusting for baseline family relationship scores, counseling intervention, gender and marital status, non-testers reported a greater increase in expressiveness (P = 0.006) and cohesion (P = 0.04) than testers. Individuals who tested positive reported a decrease in expressiveness (P = 0.07), although as a trend. Regardless of test decision or test result, those who were randomized to a client-centered counseling intervention reported a decrease in conflict (P = 0.006). Overall, study results suggest that undergoing genetic testing and learning ones BRCA1/2 status may affect family relationships. Those individuals who declined testing reported feeling closer to family members and more encouraged to express emotions to other family members demonstrating potential benefit from the offer of testing. Since those who tested positive reported feeling less encouraged to express their emotions within the family, we recommend helping clients to identify others with whom they feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and feelings about their positive gene status and increased cancer risk.
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